An online threat of a school shooting near Austin began to circulate the Internet Oct. 5, leading students to question what university officials view as a “credible threat.”
Concern arose after the Texas State University News Service sent out a series of timely warning emails, stating local law enforcement was investigating the credibility of the post. The incident occurred three days after a man who posted a similar threat online killed 10 people at a community college in Oregon.
Daniel Benitez, captain of the University Police Department, said after a student reported the threat to the department, officers worked with FBI officials and the Austin Regional Intelligence Center (ARIC) to validate its credibility.
However, ARIC officials were already actively investigating the “menacing” post by the time UPD was alerted of the threat, he said.
Benitez said although the term “credible” does not mean that a threat is “absolute,” establishing credibility involves pinpointing who wrote the post and where he or she published it.
Additional patrol officers were immediately sent to campus to raise the visibility of law enforcement in the area, he said.
On social media sites such as Twitter, Texas State students expressed frustration that classes were not canceled after the threat went viral. Some said they were fearful to go to campus.
Benitez said although he knew UPD would face backlash for not canceling classes until the threat was eliminated, school cancellation is enacted by the Department of Academic Affairs and the provost, not the police department.
The source of the threat has yet to be identified, but Benitez is confident that ARIC officials are still monitoring the situation.
“We always work as though there is a threat to our university,” he said. “We make sure that we, as a university police department, protect the safety of our students.”
Jordan Macha, graduate assistant in the department of political science, said she believes the university did a good job immediately informing students about the threat.
She said Texas State’s timeliness indicated UPD was taking “all possible measures” to ensure the safety of life on campus.
Benitez said he urges students, faculty and staff to stay alert and report any suspicious occurrences to UPD.
“A lot has to do with the faculty, students and staff, and getting that information and making sure we follow through,” Benitez said. “It’s very hard as a police department to monitor anything and everything.”
Nicholas Laughlin, public relations sophomore and president of the College Democrats, said receiving an email alert from the University News Service was “unsettling,” especially because news of the threat came right after the school shooting in Oregon.
After he found out the threat was posted on the Internet forum 4chan, Laughlin said he felt the threat of a local school shooting was highly unreliable and unlikely.
However, he said the shooting in Oregon was tragic and raises questions about the danger that could be involved with SB 11.
The College Democrats are actively working to find a way to show university officials and the Texas Legislature the law is not a smart idea, Laughlin said.
Macha said if the post had been made while concealed carry was in effect, she would have felt even more uncomfortable with students and faculty having guns on campus, because emotions could intensify in the face of a threat.
“That type of environment doesn’t generally yield itself for anyone to be making rational decisions,” she said. “I’m glad that this time, we didn’t have concealed carry on campus.”
Macha is a Texas native who moved from Louisiana to pursue graduate school at the university. After returning to Texas, she was unaware SB 11 had passed until receiving an email from university State officials asking for thoughts on the best way to implement the new law.
“I would like to see the university to do an open forum to have a more transparent discussion about concealed carry on campus,” Macha said. “What are the fears? What does faculty have to say? I think there needs to be a more robust dialogue on campus.”
Stories in the media have demonstrated professors are “legitimately fearful” of students who could potentially threaten them due to grades or other issues, she said.
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable meeting with students one-on-one if handguns were allowed on campus,” Macha said.
Although he believes UPD has a great response team, Laughlin said students should “never say never” when it comes to the possibility of school shootings.
“I’m sure the students at Oregon didn’t think it could happen at their school, but it did,” Laughlin said. “I think it’s a higher chance of happening with guns on campus, but that’s something we won’t know the answer to until next fall.”